Family and friends of a 28-year-old stroke survivor in Ottawa are raising money to help her and her fiancé get by while she works to recover.

Julie Poulin and Chris Smith

Julie Poulin and Chris Smith were engaged to be married when she suffered a stroke in January. (Courtesy Chris Smith)

Julie Poulin suffered a stroke on Jan. 26 at her home in Orleans. Her fiancé, Chris Smith, woke up to find his partner on the floor that night. He realized she was in the midst of a medical emergency.

"She wasn't in very good shape so I called the ambulance from there and called her mom over," Smith said. "We waited about 15 minutes for the ambulance. We both kind of knew it was a stroke but we didn't want to say it."

Poulin had part of her skull removed in surgery to allow her brain the chance to swell, and is now undergoing rehabilitation, including speech therapy and physiotherapy, at Ottawa's Elizabeth Bruyere Hospital.

She currently cannot walk or speak, and she is paralyzed on the right side of her body. But Smith says doctors are optimistic about Poulin's recovery.

"They are hopeful she will walk again," said Smith, though it's unclear how long it could take.  Smith said it could take several months or more.

During the recovery process, Smith and her parents visit Poulin daily. He also tries to give her words of encouragement.

"[I tell her] I love you and you're going to be okay and you're going to be able to walk down the aisle and we are going to do whatever it takes to get you better... not to worry about anything outside of here," said Smith.

"Just worry about getting better. That's all our number one priority is. To see you happy and healthy again."

The medical stress has also been coupled with financial challenges.

Smith has already had to drain the wedding fund in order to keep up with mortgage payments and other costs while Poulin is unable to work. She works as a legal assistant.

To help with this burden, Smith's friend Lisa Barker and his sister Wendy Stratton launched an online fundraising campaign. More than $6,700 has been raised so far.

"Money is the last thing we want for them to think about or worry about right now," Barker said. "Julie getting better is really important and them just having the wedding they always hoped and dreamed for."

Smith says the support has been a lifeline for Poulin.

"I think it is huge, usually when I come to the hospital she tears up. She's so happy to see me," he said. "I don't think she'd be able to make it if she didn't have all the support that she has. Family, friends, even the community. Outreach has been amazing … it has definitely helped her and even motivated her in some way. She wants to get better. She wants to come home and take our dog for a walk … she wants to do all these things again."

Shocked stroke happened to someone so young

Smith says he was shocked to learn stroke can affect people of all ages.

Julie Poulin and Chris Smith

Smith said he is determined to see Poulin recover and still wants to get married. "She's all I need. I don't need anything else," he said. (Courtesy Chris Smith)

Strokes can either be caused by a clot or bleeding, but Smith says doctors are still testing Poulin to discover more about what happened.

"Julie is 28-years-old and she is completely healthy. There's no history of stroke in her family. She doesn't smoke, she doesn't drink, she exercises regularly. She has none of the common risk factors of somebody who has had a stroke. I just want everybody to know the signs. It could happen to anybody. Just make yourself aware that it could happen at any time to anybody," Smith said.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation says the signs of stroke include weakness, speech problems, vision problems, and the sudden onset of headaches. It says people displaying these symptoms should go to the hospital immediately.

According to data provided to the CBC by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 121 women between the ages of 25 to 29 suffered a stroke in 2013 and were treated in acute medical facilities in Canada.

Smith said he is determined to help Poulin recover and insists he still wants to get married.

"We have met with so many doctors but she's young, she has that on her side and she's a fighter," Smith said.  "As long as she is there, it is fine. She's all I need. I don't need anything else."

Number of Hospitalizations for Stroke among Females

Age 2012-13
0 to 4


5 to 9


10 to 14 22
15 to 19 57
20 to 24 65
25 to 29 121
30 to 34 170
35 to 39 263
40 to 44 402
45 to 49 679
50 to 54 997
55 to 59 1,427
60 to 64 1,669
65+ 20,240
Total 26,232

Source: CIHI